LAKELAND, Fla. — Click-clack. Click-clack.
They came out of the Detroit Tigers building — the future walking toward the back fields at TigerTown.
Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene started out walking together, their spikes clacking off the concrete, toward about 35 fans standing behind a chain-link fence.
“Hey guys!” somebody said.
It was the first time that fans have been this close to the players in Lakeland in two years because of COVID-19. The Tigers have loosened up restrictions, allowing fans better access.
Greene and Torkelson walked in a group with Andre Lipcius, Colt Keith and Gage Workman.
They went through warmups, did drills and took batting practice in the first full-squad practice of this minor-league minicamp.
Torkelson, who has a chance to be the Tigers everyday first baseman, worked exclusively at first. The third base experiment is over. He looked smooth and comfortable at first base. And he drilled line drives during batting practice.
Greene has a chance to start in center field. He too looked good in batting practice.
Quick caveat: Yes, it was batting practice. So it’s hard to make anything of it.
Torkelson and Greene are living together in a four-bedroom house with five teammates.
What future superstar has to double up?
He’s sleeping in a single bed.
“Took one for the team,” he said, smiling.
Let’s make a deal
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association met up Monday in Jupiter, Florida, roughly 160 miles from Lakeland. The two sides arrived at Roger Dean Stadium for the first of what’s expected to be numerous negotiations this week.
Because of MLB’s lockout, which began Dec. 2 after the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, players on the 40-man roster are still prohibited from reporting to spring training. Those players can’t communicate with team employees.
“It’s sad,” Torkelson said. “I wish they were here and I was working out with them. We’re just waiting for them to show up. Control the controllable. Just go out there every day and give it your best effort. They’ll arrive eventually.”
Greene echoed a similar message.
“I’m here getting my work in,” Greene said. “That’s just trying to play as hard as I can and get ready, whenever that time is. I’m not really going to worry about that and just worry about myself.”
Happy birthday, Tram!
When the prospects went through infield drills, they used miniature gloves, forcing them to catch the ball in the right spot.
It was a teaching tool, trying to reinforce good habits.
The small grey gloves were 9 inches — about 2 ½ inches smaller than a typical infielder glove.
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When Alan Trammell played for the Tigers, he thinks he used an 11 ½ inch glove. But back then, they didn’t even stamp a number on them.
Trammell just used what he thought felt right on his hand.
Trammell, who celebrated his 64th birthday on Monday, hit the prospects balls during the drills.
Of course, he celebrated his birthday on a field.
There’s a blue batter’s eye beyond the center field fence, measured at 420 feet, at one of the backfields, where Greene was taking batting practice.
But it was Jose De La Cruz who made the most noise.
The Tigers signed the 20-year-old outfielder for a $1.8 million bonus as an international free agent in July 2018.
It was just batting practice, but De La Cruz crushed the ball to straightaway center and off the middle of the massive batter’s eye.
Nobody else accomplished this feat during Monday’s session.
De La Cruz is known for his raw power, but in games, he strikes out a ton. He hit .127 with one homer, 10 walks and 74 strikeouts over 39 games in Low-A Lakeland last season, then was demoted to the Florida Complex League.